Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Table of Periodicals

I love comic books. Everyone who knows me shouldn't be surprised by that, or if you are: sorry you didn't know. I have problems with how the industry runs nowadays and have had for more than ten years. Cover prices are really out of control, publishers control rights that don't really belong to them in the same way that record companies do, and quality is so far down that it's no surprise that selling 100,000 copies is considered a hit. Comics aren't ubiquitous like they used to be and the only major distributor left (from as many as three that I can recall) is only major because it started signing publishers to 'exclusive' contracts in order to gain its effective monopoly. In the last two months, that distributor also says it won't offer for sale any title that can't pre-sell less than 500 copies.

All of these things are money-driven. It makes sense, from a certain point of view, but not to consumers. Certainly it makes less sense when the quality of art has been diluted to ensure that there are five Batman comics, five Superman comics and three or four Spider-Man comics each month in addition to the interminable mini-series featuring Z-list characters who could barely sustain a guest appearance for half an issue. By 'art' I mean writing and inking, too. Consumers complain a great deal about cross-over events but still keep on buying them.

Because it's a habit, comic books are. They buy every Batman book because they always have, every Spider-Man book because they want it to get better and their collections won't be complete without the dreck. I stopped that about fifteen years ago and focused only on what i perceived to be as 'good' comics, many of which weren't popular and didn't sell well. Tim Hunter is one of the most interesting magical characters out there, but his last series died an early death as it seemed to be hitting its stride. Crossing Midnight by Mike Carey and Jim Fern went early due to low sales. Fables and 100 Bullets are brilliant stories that survived long enough to really find the audience they needed.

It takes a while, and it takes money to survive. So many small businesses don't survive their first year it's insane. I don't know the latest figures, but it's huge. Of those survivors, another large portion don't survive into their third year. It's all about building the habits and having a quality product. If your business becomes a regular part of someone's routine, you will survive, or you will be replaced. I see that Americans are reading more fiction these days than previously (I hope due to interest and actually caring about being entertained) and that's something that needs to continue.

We need to keep that habit up, whether it's comic books or magazines or (cross your fingers) newspapers, Americans should be reading more. This is a siren call to all creators/writers/artists to improve the quality of your art. If you want to survive, you have to bring the quality and you have to bring it regularly.